Loss and Grief
Feelings of loss and grief can be experienced after we lose someone or something we care about like; the death of a loved one; loss of a relationship; loss of a pet; loss of a job; a change to your way of life; or loss of important possessions. The grief you experience in these instances is not an illness - it is a normal response to a life event that everyone must face at some point. It takes time to adjust and to learn to live our life without that person, thing or way of life.
What is loss and grief?
When we lose someone or something important to us, it can take time to adjust and learn to live life without that person, thing or way of life. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve and it can take a lot of time and support to heal.
How does it affect us?
The intensity of our grief, how long it lasts, and our reactions to it will differ from person to person. Some common reactions include:
- Feeling sad or down
- Frequent crying
- Shock, denial, numbness
- Stress, anxiety, confusion, exhaustion
- Anger, guilt, shame, blame or even relief
- Loneliness, isolation and withdrawal
- Feeling or acting differently to usual
- Physical health problems – headaches, changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
- Not enjoying usual activities and hobbies
- Tension or problems with personal relationships
- Increased alcohol, smoking or drug use
- Feeling hopeless or like you can’t go on – thoughts of suicide or self-harm
Things that can help us heal
- Let yourself grieve - express your feelings to a trusted family member, friend or health professional, rather than bottling them up.
- Take care of yourself - by eating healthily, exercising, and sleeping. Give yourself time out from the pain –do things you enjoy, even if you don’t really feel like doing them. Try getting back into your normal routine. Avoid alcohol and drugs, as they numb feelings and make it harder to heal.
- Take your time and postpone major life decisions - it takes time to get back into life. There isn’t a set time limit on grief, so try not to put pressure on yourself or others to “move on” or “get over it”. Avoid making any big decisions until you can think more clearly.
- Say goodbye and share your feelings - Each person has a different way of remembering the person or thing that has been lost. For some people having belongings that remind them of the deceased can help. For others, putting these things away until they are better equipped to face them is easier.
- Let people help - Explain to family and friends how you feel and what you would like them to do to help. Often others want to help but they do not know what you need or want; e.g. whether to talk about the loved person or not. Tell them. It can help to talk to a professional, or to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience, and understand what you are going through.
- Let yourself heal - Healing does not just mean “letting go” or “saying goodbye”. You may feel guilty about “forgetting” a person or thing and not want to move on. This is a normal part of healing. Don’t feel guilty about moving through your grief and trying to get back to your life.
- Know that you can get through this - You can survive a big loss even if you feel like you can’t. Take one step at a time. Know your limits and expect some set-backs. It may be the hardest thing you’ll ever face but you can heal.
- Be prepared for stressful or sad events - events and situations that remind you of your loss can be particularly hard to deal with. Prepare for these events and your reactions to them, and it may not be as hard as you think it will be.
- Do things just for you - taking “time out” to do the things that you used to enjoy or to have fun is important. Even when you’re feeling down, try to connect regularly with family and friends and get involved in activities or hobbies.
When is grief a problem?
You may find yourself overwhelmed with the pain, or even avoiding the pain of grieving. If this starts to get in the way of how you live, affects work, relationships, or day-to-day life then you need to get support or professional help.
Long-term or overwhelming grief can put your physical, mental and emotional health at risk. If you think this is happening to you, seek help immediately from a health professional.
How to help someone who is grieving
- Let them know you care - acknowledge that their loss is important.
- Let them know how you feel – even if you don’t know what to say or do, but that you can be there for them.
- Listen – simply being available to hear their story when they are ready to talk can help.
- Ask them how you can help – don’t assume what they will need, but do offer help.
- Let them know it’s ok to share their grief –encourage them to not feel alone.
- Keep in contact – be available, check-in, keep them included in activities, and give them the option to contact you.
- Be understanding – accept that they may act or say things differently.
- Look out for signs that they are not coping – this includes signs of suicidal thoughts, self-harm, getting stuck in their grief, or giving up on life.
- Get them help –connect them with information, resources or professional help.
- Look after yourself – helping a grieving person can be a heavy burden. Take care of your own physical and emotional health, and talk about your feelings with someone during this stressful time.
If grief is becoming too overwhelming for you or someone you know get help by talking to a psychologist, GP or counsellor.
Did this information help? Give us your feedback.
- Grief and loss information and referral service
- SANE Forums
- Peer-to-peer support for people living with a mental health problem, and for their families and other carers.
- The Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma Loss and Grief Network
- Information to help children experiencing grief and loss